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Would you like to try Nyonya food in Penang?
That was the question our friend Kathleen, who lives in Malaysia, asked us soon after we arrived in Penang.
Peranakan cuisine or Nyonya food in Penang was unknown to us before visiting Malaysia. While in Penang, we explored traditional Nyonya cuisine and Peranakan culture.
In this article, we put a spotlight on Nyonya food, including the traditional dishes, and the best restaurants that serve authentic Nyonya cuisine.
Join us in the discovery of Peranankan food in Penang, Malaysia.
What Is Nyonya Food or Peranankan Food?
Penang is known as one of the birthplaces of Peranakan culture. Peranakan means “straits born” or the descendants of Chinese immigrants who married and integrated with local Malays.
Males are referred to “Baba” for “Nyonya” for females. Our friend, Kathleen, of Baba Nyonya heritage, helped guide us through flavors of Nyonya cuisines and Nyonya restaurants in Penang.
Nyonya food, or Penang Peranakan food, is a result of blending Chinese ingredients with distinct spices and cooking techniques used by locals.
This unique and authentic Nyonya cuisine is aromatic, spicy, and herbal.
Fresh herbs like lemongrass, galangal (wild ginger), turmeric, chilies, shallots, and spicy shrimp belacan paste are used in most Nyonya dishes.
Top Penang Nyonya Food Not To Miss
Nyonya food incorporates Malay style dishes, traditional Chinese foods with modifications, and importantly, invented or innovative foods.
Sweets and desserts also play a quintessential role in traditional Nyonya dishes and they are known as keuhs.
They are typically colorful and bite sized and come in a variety of flavors and textures.
From savory to sweet dishes here is a range of the best Nyonya food in Penang to savor.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you want to explore local food in Penang, Georgetown, consider taking a food tour. This Georgetown food tour takes you the best traditional dishes at local eateries along with a cultural tour of Penang. Enjoy good food, taste delicious street food and discover Penang with a local guide.
1. Kuih Paiti or Nyonya Top Hats
Kuih Paiti is a classic Nyonya food that is also found in Singapore, where it is known as Kueh Pie Tee.
Authentic Nyonya kuih are classic little bites that are prepared in little pie shells that resemble top hats.
Savory, crispy pastry shells are filled with a tasty mix of thinly sliced turnips, carrots, bamboo shoots, and french bean.
These Top Hats are served with a delicious homemade chili sauce, that adds a nice finish.
The contrast of textures between the crispy cups and moist fillings make eating these a truly amazing experience.
As one of the best Nyonya food in Penang, you’ll find it difficult to stop at just one.
2. Nyonya Chap Chai or Mixed Vegetables Stew
Chap Chai, or Chap Chye, is an authentic homecooked Nyonya food enjoyed by Peranakans and non-Peranakans alike.
It is a common Chinese dish typically eaten around Chinese New Year. There are many variations of the recipe and they are typically passed down from generation to generation.
This vegetable stew is filled with cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, black fungus, lily flower bud, beancurd and various other vegetables.
What sets the Nyonya version apart is the use of taucheo, fermented soya bean, in the place of salt.
This traditional and simple dish is a delicious complement to chicken curry. This authentic Nyonya food is the essence of home style cooking.
The kind of vegetable stew one’s grandmother would make.
3. Otak-Otak or Steamed Fish Cake
Otak Otak is an authentic Nyonya food that is popular in both Malaysia and Singapore.
This Penang Nyonya food is a steamed fish cake encased in banana leaves. Otak-otak is made with ground fish mixed with spices such as lemongrass, chillies and turmeric.
The famous Penang version also uses betel leaves or daun kaduk, to add additional flavor and then grill it over charcoal.
We enjoyed the delicious otak otak flavors as a snack. However, it can also be eaten as a full meal with steamed rice.
Everyone who loves Nyonya food always recommends getting started with these flavorful steamed fish cakes.
READ RELATED: Top 12 Authentic Food in Singapore You Want To Try
4. Loh Bak, Lobak or Nyonya Pork Roll
Loh Bak or pork roll is a famous Penang Nyonya food. It is commonly made with coarsely ground pork seasoned with Chinese five spice powder that is rolled in thin beancurd sheets and fried.
In Penang, you’ll find it as finger food sold by street vendors, or as part of a platter with other delicious Nyonya dishes.
As it popular, there are tons of variations when it comes to this Nyonya food. We found add-ins like green onions, jicama, water chestnuts, and shrimp.
Every family and every street stall vendor has their own favorite recipe.
Whatever variation you try, you’ll not go wrong with Lobak. It’s one of the best Nyonya food to savor.
6. Kari Kay or Nyonya Chicken Curry
Chicken curry is a popular Indian dish found all over the world, but this Nyonya version had us begging for more.
Cooked in the traditional Nyonya bone-in style and infused with fresh curry paste and leaves.
This chicken curry swimming in a thick coconut-based sauce is one of the most scrumptious Nyonya dishes.
It is mouthwatering and incredibly aromatic, with the chicken pieces easily falling off the bones.
Even though this chicken curry might seem like one of your familiar savory dishes, this Peranakan version is not to be missed.
6. Ayam Buah Keluak or Traditional Chicken Curry Dish
Ayam buah keluak is another very traditional Nyonya food and a classic dish within Peranakan culture.
This Nyonya food in Penang is distinguished by the use of buak keluak nut, known as candlenut in English.
It looks similar to the macadamia nut and is native to the mangrove swamps in Malaysia and Indonesia.
One of the peculiarities of this nut is that the raw seed contains cyanide, which if ingested in high amounts can kill.
The seeds are painstakingly cleaned to make them safe for consumption and used to make this baba nyonya classic dish.
This traditional Nyonya food is one of the icons of Peranakan culture. Ayam Buah Keluak is made with the buah keluak nut mixed with chicken and other aromatics and spices.
Peranakans usually remove the flesh from the nuts and saute it with chicken and spices, then fill the mixture back into the nuts and cook them in curry.
This dish is mildly spicy with a slightly sour flavor. But you won’t find it on the menu in all Nyonya restaurants because it is one of the most time-consuming Peranakan dishes to make.
7. Nyonya Acar Hu or Acar Fish Dish
With a blend of sweet and savory flavors, this is one of the most traditional Nyonya cuisine dishes.
This must-try Nyonya dish is a pickled, sweet and sour fish known as acar hu. Acar hu translates to ‘fish pickle’ in the Nyonya dialect.
It typically is a deep-fried fish is pickled with a turmeric-vinegar base and spiced with garlic, ginger, and chilies.
Best eaten with steaming hot rice, the tasty dish is the perfect balance of sweet, sour and tangy flavors.
Acar Hu is said to be therapeutic because turmeric and ginger are excellent antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
Many Nyonya dishes use plenty of herbs, spices and roots for similar therapeutic effects.
8. Nasi Ulam or Rice Salad with Herbs
Another classic Nyonya food in Penang is the herb rice known as nasi ulam. This dish is a strong example of the Malay influence on Penang Peranakan food.
Mixing raw herbs into rice was not done in the original Hokkien or southern Chinese cuisine from which many Baba Nyonyas derive.
It was more common with the Malay people that the early Chinese settlers would have come into contact with.
A popular Nyonya food in Penang, you’ll find that no two nasi ulam are the same.
Most are made with rice, coconut paste, and shallots. As for the rest, you’ll find the rice mixed with any number of fresh, local herbs and vegetables.
Some may include as finely-shredded fresh turmeric root, pink torch ginger, wild betel leaves, Thai basil leaves and Vietnamese mint.
Some nasi ulam may even include salted fish or dried shrimp with a side of sambal sauce for a bite of spice.
Nyonya Nasi ulam represents the wonderful combination of flavors from Malay and Chinese cultures.
9. Nyonya Kuih or Traditional Nyonya Sweet or Savory Cakes
Nyonya cakes, also known as keuhs or kuih, are bite-sized, colorful desserts such as cookies, cakes, pastries, and puddings.
They are made primarily with rice flour or glutinous rice, along with coconut, tapioca, mung bean and more.
The colors are the most striking characteristic of these desserts, with their greens, pinks, yellows and blues.
Generally, these desserts or cakes are home cooked Nyonya foods made to celebrate cultural and religious events.
These cakes are not overly sweet though they do contain coconut and palm sugar.
The vibrant colors are also not artificial and are made from natural coloring such as pandan leaves, gula melaka, rose syrup and egg yolk.
There are many varieties and we enjoyed sampling the different flavors regularly. These desserts were one of our favorite parts of Nyonya cuisine.
10. Nyonya Soya Bean Curd – Soy Pudding
While walking the streets one evening, we stumbled onto a small corner cafe that was making Nyonya soya bean curd. Intrigued by this pudding-like dessert, we decided to give it a try.
Nyonya Soya Bean curd is simply sweet tofu. It is made from soy milk transformed into curds by cooking it with gelatin or jelly powder, and then cooling it for hours before serving.
The traditional soya bean curd has only sugar as one of the main ingredients. While flavored soya bean curds also have vanilla, sesame or green tea.
The texture of the Nyonya Soya Bean is similar to custard or pudding. The taste is really mild and by itself, it can be quite bland.
You want to try the vanilla, sesame, or green tea flavors for the best experience. This is the perfect dessert after a spicy or rich meal.
Best Restaurants in Penang For Nyonya Food
In Penang, you’ll find many Nyonya restaurants serving delicious and good Nyonya food. While they range from unpretentious eateries to elaborate restaurants you can count on enjoying wonderful Penang Peranakan food.
Following are a few of our top favorite Nyonya restaurants in Penang.
1. Bibik’s Kitchen Nyonya Cuisine
This quaint, simple restaurant is where you’ll find authentic and delicious home cooked Nyonya dishes with the recipes handed down through generations.
The owner is passionate about the food, the history and the heritage of Peranakan and Nyonya culture.
Bibik’s Kitchen Nyonya Cuisine is known for its Nyonya chicken rendang. This dish is a dry curry. It uses less liquid, resulting in a dry, thick sauce instead of being soupy or saucy.
The chicken is slow-cooked, allowing it to absorb all the delicious spices.
Address: 73, Jalan Sri Bahari, George Town
Hours: Every day except Monday 11:30 am – 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Price: Chicken meals cost 20 RM (approx. $4.20)
2. Mum’s Nyonya Cuisine
For home cooked Nyonya food that you don’t find in every restaurant, check out Mum’s Nyonya Cuisine.
Find specialties like asam pedas fish or sour and spicy fish stew. Ju hu cha or cuttlefish fried with turnip, carrot and mushroom and rolled in a lettuce leaf is another one to try.
With another favorite, ikan purut or fish belly dish cooked with herbs and vegetables, locals say the food reminds them of their grandma’s cooking.
Mum’s Nyonya cuisine restaurant is tucked away from the tourist area and looks like an ordinary house. However, there is a little sign at the entrance making it easy to find.
Address: 31-D, Lorong Abu Siti, George Town
Hours: Every day except Monday 11:00 am – 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Price: Prices start at 12 RM for vegetable dishes (approx. $2.50), Perut Ikan costs 20 RM (approx. $4.20)
3. Ivy’s Nyonya Cuisine
This Nyonya restaurant is small, bright, clean and comfortable with indoor and outdoor seating available.
It’s tucked away in a converted Nyonya style terrace home and serves authentic Nyonya cuisine. It’s no wonder it is always packed with locals.
Ivy’s Nyonya Cuisine emphasizes fresh seafood and traditional Peranakan foods. For the best Penang foodie experience, try their set meals of Nyonya cuisine.
You’ll find a variety of seafood and meat dishes in the set menus. This is a great way to sample reasonably priced Nyonya food.
Address: 58, Jalan Chow Thye, George Town
Hours: Every day 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm, except Monday 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Price: Prices start at 18 RM (approx. $3.80)
4. Baba Phang
Baba Phang is one of the best Nyonya restaurants in Penang. You’ll find less popular traditional dishes like Daun Ubi Masak Titik, Cincalok Pork Belly, and Kerabu Kacang Botol.
The Kerabu Kacang Botol is a favorite, made with winged beans, dried shrimp, lime juice and spicy shrimp paste or sambal belacan.
The chefs meticulously slice the vegetables into very thin slices resulting in a crunchy, refreshing, mildly spicy dish that can be quite addictive!
Try visiting Baba Phang for lunch, as dinner can get very busy.
Address: 17, Jalan Sri Bahari, George Town,
Hours: Every day except Wednesday 11:30 am – 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm.
Price: Prices start at 6 RM for snacks (approx. $1.30), 23 RM for fish dishes (approx. $4.90)
5. Nyonya Su Pei Private Dining / Heritage Artisans
This true hidden gem is where you’ll find some of the best Nyonya food in Penang.
Born and raised in Penang, Nyonya Su Pei was schooled in the art of Peranakan cooking by her grandma-in-law and mother-in-law.
They taught her all about Nyonya cuisine and imparted over 500 prized family recipes.
Along with her husband Baba Jerry, Su Pei cooks and presents Peranakan private dining experiences.
Guided by Baba Jerry’s personal anecdotes and story-telling, the homecooked Nyonya food is presented with details of the vibrant and dynamic culture behind the cuisine.
Natural ingredients and fresh, seasonal produce are hand picked by the chef and transformed into richly complex dishes using time-honored techniques.
Nyonya Su Pei and Baba Jerry provide a unique experience for everyone in a quiet, comfortable, welcoming environment.
Address: 53, Jalan Padang Victoria, George Town
Hours: Every day except Monday 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Price: Price range is $64 – $106
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you would like to learn to make Nyonya cuisine and learn about Peranakan culture, consider taking a cooking class. Professional Chef Samuel from Malaysia will teach you to make at least three main Nyonya dishes over a four hour period. Delve into Peranakan culture with a cooking class in Penang.
6. Little Kitchen @ Nyonya
Little Kitchen is all about sampling as many classic Nyonya dishes as possible in a unique, family-friendly, cultural, and educational experience.
Baba Jay’s home is a gorgeous Straits heritage house that he inherited from his Peranakan great-grandfather.
Stepping inside is like walking back in time. Appreciating the well-preserved interior, with its antique furniture and intricate woodwork, provides the perfect atmosphere.
There are only three tables – Baba Jay will give you his personal attention – so reservations are required to experience this authentic Nyonya food.
Address: 179, Lebuh Noordin, George Town
Hours: Every day except weekend 6:30 pm –9:00 pm
Price: Prices start at 88 RM (approx. $18.70)
7. Richard Rivalee Nyonya Cuisine Restaurant
Richard Rivalee is considered a Nyonya Cuisine guru. He is known to cook over 100 types of Nyonya dishes, though not all are offered on his menu.
He is also a top local fashion Malaysian designer and the ambience of his restaurant shines.
The ornate, carved wooden building offers a dimmed, romantic setting with Peranakan tablecloths and blue and white porcelain dinnerware.
Beautiful knick knacks and Nyonya wares provide a showcase of Peranakan culture.
A favorite dish at this Nyonya restaurant in Penang is the Jiu Hu Char. This stir fried dish is made with carrots, finely-julienned jicama, shiitake mushrooms, pork, and finely-shredded dried cuttlefish. It is renowned for its distinct umami flavors.
Richard Rivalee also excels at Nyonya desserts. Be sure to try the gula melaka sago pudding with palm sugar, or bubur cha cha, which are all balanced and not overly sweet.
Address: 62 & 64, Lorong Macalister, George Town
Hours: Open every day except Tuesday 11:30 am – 2:30 pm and 6:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Price: Prices start at 20 RM (approx. $4.20)
8. Auntie Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery
Auntie Gaik Lean’s serves Nyonya food in a spacious, well-lit, unpretentious dining environment with a lively atmosphere.
The dining area is comfortably sized with large tables and friendly staff including the owner who walks around meeting guests.
While prices may seem high upon first glance, the portions sizes are very large. One dish can be shared among three to four people.
Expect a wide variety of classic Nyonya dishes, including local favorites like Chicken Curry Kapitan, Sambal Brinjal or eggplant, juices and more.
Auntie Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery serves authentic Nyonya cuisine that has the perfect balance of sweet, spicy, sour and salty.
Address: 1, Bishop St, Georgetown
Hours: Open every day except Monday 12:00 pm – 2:30 pm and 6:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Price: Main dishes start at 16 RM (approx. $3.40)
9. Nyonya Palazzo
Housed within the prominent Pinang Peranakan Mansion, a legend Nyonya house, this restaurant offers a culturally rich experience.
This Nyonya cafe offers a an array of some of the best Nyonya food with a touch of modernity. Find colorful desserts or kuih, a signature platter of bites of scrumptious Nyonya dishes.
To immerse fully into Nyonya culture, there is a gift shop highlighting Peranakan culture. You’ll find clothing, jewelry, bags, housewares, art, chocolates, and more.
You can even rent a Nyonya kebaya or traditional tunic for a photo shoot wearing Nyonya distinctive designs.
Ornate and colorful, every corner of this modern Nyonya cuisine restaurant is filled with intricately-designed furniture.
For an afternoon delight, try the Baba Nyonya High Tea Set which allows you to sample an assortment of five beautifully presented kuihs or desserts. Reservations are highly recommended.
This is a perfect spot to stop after your visit to the Peranakan Mansion. From entrance to end, the Nyonya Palazzo pays homage to the rich culture Peranakan culture.
Address: 29, Church St, Georgetown,
Hours: Open every day except Thursday 10:00 am – 6:30 pm
Price: Main courses start at 14.90 RM (approx. $3.20)
10. Winn’s Cafe
Enjoy meticulously prepared and beautifully-plated dishes in a relaxed atmosphere at Winn’s Cafe.
Expect classic Nyonya dishes that full of flavor and meticulously prepared. You can choose either set menus of popular Nyonya foods or order individual plates off the menu.
One of their most popular signature dishes is the nasi ulam or rice salad with its complex, refreshing flavors.
The rice is mixed with finely-julienned herbs like daun kadok, turmeric, ginger, kerisik (toasted grated coconut), and dried shrimp.
It’s topped off with a touch of ginger and the shrimp paste or sambal belacan adds to the deliciousness.
Be sure to end your meal with Bee Koh Moi or Pulut Hitam in Malay. It is a black glutinous dessert with coconut milk and a traditional finish of authentic Nyonya cuisine.
Address: 38, Jalan Cantonment, Pulau Tikus, George Town
Hours: Open every day except Sunday 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Price: Prices start at 16.50 (approx. $3.50)
Best Things to Do in Penang: Visit Pinang Peranakan Mansion
For a glimpse back in time to how the wealthy Straits Chinese settlers lived, visit the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, a cultural museum of Peranakan heritage.
Built at the end of the 19th century, the restored mansion is the former residence of Chung Keng Kwee, the wealthiest man in Penang during his time.
The ornate mansion has an eclectic mix of Eastern and Western elements and a wealth of artifacts that transport you back in time.
We were quite impressed during our visit. As soon as you enter the museum, you cannot help but notice the opulent dining area.
Meals were like ceremonies for entertaining guests, and the art of cooking was an expression of cultural exuberance and eclecticism.
In the kitchen, the stove is at the center, made of long bricks with holes. Wooden boxes with wire mesh sides are suspended from the ceiling, and porcelain or earthenware jars all around.
In and around the kitchen, the mistress of the house would entertain friends, relatives. This is where the women in the household gathered.
This visit to the Pinang Peranakan Mansion was an eye opener on the celebration of the Nyonya food at a Peranakan home.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: For a deeper dive into the history of Nyonya culture in Penang, consider taking a private history tour. With an entertaining history buff for a guide, you’ll visit the Pinang Peranakan Mansion and other top Penang sites. Over 3.5 hours, you’ll get a good historical understanding of Penang and the blend of cultures.
Malaysia is a country blessed with a wonderful blend of cultures and the northern Peranakan cuisines are worth discovering through Nyonya food.
Authentic Nyonya cuisine is a significant marker of Peranakan culture. The food is a medley of tastes – salty, sweet, spicy, and sour, which, in the hands of a Nyonya cook, is a wonderful collision of flavors.
In Penang, don’t miss discovering Nyonya culture and classic Nyonya dishes. The Nyonya food, created by the women in the kitchen, has spawned a delicious new style of cooking that must be experienced.
Have you heard of Nyonya food in Penang or Peranakan cuisine before? In the comments below, tell us which Nyonya food you would love to try!
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Rosemary is the editor-in-chief and strategist at Authentic Food Quest.
Traveling slow since 2015 with her partner, Claire, she has explored the cuisine in 45 countries and more than 240+ culinary cities.
Her writing about local food specialties has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post.
As a food and travel writer, Rosemary has co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
Rosemary is an avid runner when she’s not eating and exploring new destinations. She has run ten marathons and counting.
Before Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary held senior-level strategy positions in advertising.
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